Bible Reading Mark 1:9-15
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (CJB with proper names adapted)
Message “Preparing Against Temptation” Psalm 25: 1-11
Last week, we were on the mountain with Jesus, where we saw his heavenly glory, and then followed him down into the valley where he wants us to do his work with him. This week we hold to the pattern. We begin with another exciting event where the heavens are opened when Jesus is baptized by John, which is followed by being whisked off into the valley of the wilderness. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark spends only two sentences on this event and moves right on to the jailing of John, after which Jesus begins his ministry and in the next verses calls his disciples to follow him.
But it is back in the wilderness we are called to stay these 40 days of Lent, and it is during this interlude of baptism and commencing active ministry that Jesus first stops in the wilderness to prepare himself. When we talk about the wilderness as a metaphor of life, it could be pictured as the opposite of Eden -- that place of flourishing connection where we experience healing and wholeness.
In the wilderness, we find ourselves forced into a barren, dry, isolated, harsh, empty, broken place the lends itself to unsettling desperation, wandering lost without a timetable or a map – unable to find anything resembling Eden, and of course, it is a place where we are tempted to give up trying to find our way home and settle for something else.
But that is not all the wilderness is. Some adventurer’s love the wilderness. They crave the experience -- where they have to work for water and food and impose limits on their normal patterns of behavior, on their relationships, enabling them to experience solitude, to retreat from distractions of everyday life, making space and time for our spirit to connect with God’s Spirit in concentrated awareness and focus. I believe this is what moved Jesus out into the wilderness. On being publicly declared as the beloved Son of God; so to deeply ponder the implications of how that is to be carried out -- he moves into the wilderness.
Thanks to John, Mark, Joyce, Anita, Sally, Debbie, Lynn, and Randy, and maybe a couple others I am not aware of or have overlooked, the wilderness has been conveniently placed before us for the season, along with symbols of the tools we will need for preparation to look intently again at what kind of Christian we are called to be. (See pictures above) I invite you to follow Jesus and enter into the wilderness so that as he is directed and prepared for what kind of Messiah he is going to be, we can be directed and prepare for what kind of Christian we are becoming.
The temptations listed in Matthew and Luke bear this out. So yes, even when we enter into the wilderness deliberately, there are still temptations. Despite our high-tech world, high-octane lifestyles, high-stress jobs / studies, and the high-risk stakes that challenge us; the temptations we face are still surprisingly similar to the three insidious temptations put to Jesus in the wilderness. Briefly –
Turn stones to Bread -- Misuse of God’s power
to use the power of sonship for personal selfish gratification, to selfishly care for his own needs without consideration for God or others. If Jesus had fallen for this, he may have led a life of leisure, but the world would know nothing of saving grace. If we fall for this, Christianity becomes a self-serving institution and will have no impact or relevance on God’s world. The true essence of life is the nourishment of doing God’s will.
Get Kingdoms for bowing down -- Compromised means
Since Jesus came to be king, to gain kingdoms sounds pretty good. But life is just as much about how we live the journey – and arriving even at a worthy end by unholy means may gain us the world but cost us our soul (See Mark 8:35-37) The true essence of life in Christ is worshiping God and God alone.
Prove yourself -- Self-glorification
to use God’s gifts and grace to glorify and prove yourself rather than because you lovingly obey God and care for others. If faith is rooted in the fantastic, it is not faith. Do not test God – do not make him prove himself by the miraculous. Miracles are born -- not for proof, not for glory; but for compassion and for teaching.
Today’s text reminds us that we are not alone in the wilderness. We will discover that Christ has gone before us, and is waiting for us, and eager to make the journey with us. Like the angels who tended to him, Christ the Shepherd will tend to us. He understands how difficult it is. He understands because he has been there himself. Never forget that he is with us always.
Don’t fall for these or any other temptations to attempt to misuse faith or our status as God’s children to get or do something that is contrary to God’s will. I’ve given you tips to resisting temptation before, today I lift up only one. I prepare for and resist temptation by deciding ahead of time what kind of person I want to be. Knowing that “end hope” helps me make the right choices now, to resist those paths that lead me away, sometimes ever so subtly, from what God wants me to become, and push ahead on those paths that helps me become what God wants me to become. Lean on Christ in the wilderness; lean on God in your life…
Paraphrase of / Commentary on Psalm 25
(A Covenant Festival Song about following the way, the truth, and the life)
Pray that 1) we find insight 2) we act obediently
3) God remembers his covenant love 4) God forget our sins
We begin by lifting our whole personality, body, and spirit – the whole of our life -- into the hands of God in total trust. It is only in him that our hopes will not be put to shame (be proven false). Just as the body needs daily food to function properly, so we need to lift our lives to God each day to (1) find insight and strength (2) to act obediently, to navigate God’s path in a treacherous world. Firmly assured of his close relationship with God, he is conscious that he cannot fully exist or walk in God’s way without God’s gracious help and mercy. We ask him his to show us his ways and teach us his paths – ways and paths that David already knows from youth. Someone likened his request to this: Make your truth come alive in me, that I may intimately experience in my life what I have learned in Sunday School. Then he makes two requests of God – that he (3) remembers his compassionate, graceful, steadfast covenant love that he established with his people at the dawn of creation. And God’s faithfulness, by comparison, highlights to us our sinfulness – Three times in this Psalm, David asks for forgiveness (vv 7,11,18). (4) He asks that God’s remembrance of who he is and what he has established will overshadow and swallow up our unfaithfulness to him; that he will in his mercy, forget the sins of our past and present that haunt us. It is only by God’s lovingkindness who seeks out the sinner. And that all this is because of Gods’ goodness, and it is clear that God’s goodness is good for us. But all the more when we realize that God’s goodness is not merely that by grace he withholds punishment from what we deserve, which is amazing enough -- he works for good on our behalf… (See Romans 8:28) even instructing sinners (if they are humble enough to hear it) in the way that leads to life. (and in fact, what he expects us to do for others – to not only avoid treating people badly, but to work graciously on their behalf to bring blessing and healing and wholeness to their life… not only to seek and receive forgiveness from God, but to freely forgive others as we have been forgiven -- that we and all may experience that paths of the Lord, all of which are graceful, loving and faithful – an expression that the life based on faith and finding peace is abundantly full and blessed.
When our journey is successful, the change or changes we strive to make will not stop as a temporary Lenten exercise but become a natural part of a permanent lifestyle change, and ultimately lead to a more mature journey with Christ.
Prayers and Meditation
At the beginning of the service you received a piece of paper, and a pencil if needed. I don’t know how well you can see from your seat, but at the edge of our wilderness there is a fountain and a pool, an oasis of refreshment if you will – but more importantly a symbol of the waters of our baptismal covenant, or for those not baptized, an invitation to the living waters and our desire to respond to the Christ’s invitation, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink, and rivers of living water will flow from within them and well up to eternal life. (See John 7:37-38, 4:14)
In a moment I am going to present the question of the week to you, and Jim will be playing through the first verse of the hymn while we write our answer on the slip of paper. Here is the question: What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I ask: What action or inaction is hindering you from moving to the next step of being the kind of Christian God wants you to become?
Now with that in the back of your mind, we are going to have a time of prayer. This week it is going to start with a responsive litany (your response is in bold) Let’s pray.
Dear Lord, as much as we try to map and calendar every moment of our lives, we know our planners do not tell us where we are with you. Our schedules often serve to distract us from the reality that we and many of our neighbors are not in the Eden we like to think we are. Here, in this wilderness, O God, prepare us for your way.
With persons in poverty of resources or of spirit, who are in fear from abusers, terrorists, and oppressors, who face an addiction of any kind, who are targeted for unjust treatment because of who they are; Here, in this wilderness, O God, prepare us for your way.
With leaders in religious, political, economic, and social life; with our families, friends, and neighbors; and with all who work to sustain and protect our lives as military, civilian workers, and first responders; Here, in this wilderness, O God, prepare us for your way.
With those people who are on our list or that we named at the beginning of the service, or are embedded deep within our hearts, people who need comfort, or healing, or strength to resist vices, or reconciliation in their relationships, or recovery from brokenness, or recovery from violence and natural disasters, Here, in this wilderness, O God, prepare us for your way.
For those who willingly step into the Lenten wilderness to focus and find your direction, who desire to promise to serve you in fresh ways without misusing your power, or compromising the path, or seeking personal glory Here, in this wilderness, O God, prepare us for your way.
With all who need your healing power, and with all who offer healing through their skill and presence; with all who have harmed us, and all whom we have harmed by our action or inaction; Lord hear the silent prayers of our heart…
Receive the prayers of your people, most merciful God. In your compassion, forgive our sins, and free us for lives of joyful obedience through Jesus Christ our Lord. who taught us to pray… Lord’s Prayer
And now Lord, as we hear the sounds of O Jesus I Have Promised, we write on our paper what you place in our minds about the obstacle, the action or inaction that is hindering our next step of being the kind of Christian you want us to be. If nothing has yet come to mind, offer what is on our mind, our chosen Lent discipline for this year, or our blank paper representing ourselves as a gift to you, our living water. Guide and direct us, not only this day, but all days according to your covenant faithfulness, that we may be refreshed by your living waters as we make our commitments to you and you alone. And after he has completed verse 1, we will sing and bring forward the commitment he has asked you to make to him.
Hymn # 396 O Jesus, I Have Promised
Closing Blessing Now be done with lesser things so that you will be made holy; prepared to be God’s useful instruments for his good and special purposes at all times. Amen.